5. I´m Not There (2007, Todd Haynes)
One of the daftest rock biopics of recent memory, ´I´m Not There´is hard to pigeonhole- it´s neither a straight re-telling of Bob Dylan´s life nor a metaphorical view of his work, yet its both at the same time as well. No wonder it gave critics a head-ache on release!
Although Cate Blanchett stole most of the thunder for her androgynous portrayal (as did Heath Ledger´s untimely death put him very much of retrospective spotlight), but Whishaw´s Arthur Rimbaud may come closest to the spirit of the great singer-songwriter lyrical side to the six shown on screen. “I accept chaos. I don’t know whether it accepts me.” he tells the camera, a statement doubtless the man who wrote ´Blonde on Blonde´ and ´Tempest´ would disagree with.
With his dark brown quiff and bone thin features, Whishaw looks remarkably similarly to both Dylan and Rimbaud, two poets linked with their adept ability to write great words. Nasalising his vowel sounds in a silhouetted black and white camera shots, Whishaw also sounds remarkably similar to Dylan a la his Freewheeling days.
Cigarette in mouth, poetic verses spewed out of mouth, Whishaw´s plays the part of a commentator well, hidden behind Blanchet´s showier gender bending theatrics and Christian Bale´s melodious singing turns. He is the social outcast, the reverent writer, the beat generator before the beat generation; as he spews “You know , it´s against nature´s will. And I´m against nature. I don´t dig it at all”.
4. Cloud Atlas (2012, Tom Tykerand The Wachowskis)
Ambitious is the most suitable adjective to describe ´Cloud Atlas´as each of the film´s main actors find themselves playing different roles in different countries, eras and zones. A challenging ambition, not of all the actors manage each different facet (Tom Hanks is excruciating as a Scotsman and neither Jim Broadbent nor Hugh Grant satisfy as anything other than their English portrayals), but Whishaw´s manages his five incarnations (including that of a woman called Georgette) nicely.
Whishaw brings much of the charm he played in his sleep in ´Brideshead´ to the table as Robert Frobisher, but impresses even more so as a San Franciscan store clerk (attached with heady beard) and as the affable cabin boy. Two differing traders in two differing centuries, Whishaw personifies them differently (Whishaw plays a convincing seventies cool American accent), yet brings them together with knowing looks and dazzled gazes.
And more remarkably still is how well poised he is as Georgette, a woman of incredible stance and beauty, unmistakeably female, not only because of make-up, but with her gestations. Soft-spoken, but large in spirit, Whishaw plays the part with such nuanced effect, audiences may mistake the actor as that of a woman. Why wasn´t he alive when Shakespeare needed people like him?
3. The Lobster (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos)
Madness. There´s no other adjective to describe ´The Lobster´ but sheer madness. Mad dialogue, mad settings , mad performances- and none are madder than Whishaw´s ´The Limping Man´. And with comic co-stars of the calibre of Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly and Olivia Colman, that´s an impressive pedigree.
“I found out she had been moved to a zoo.” he monologues to a room, lamenting their failed relationships, which has led to their current incarceration (this is a simplification of one of the battier films of recent times- and that includes Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze´s fair collection).
“I often went there to see her. I’d give her raw meat. I knew that wolves liked raw meat, but I couldn’t figure out which of the wolves was my mother so I used to give a little bit to each of them. One day I decided to enter the enclosure. I really missed her and I wanted a hug. ..The zoo guards got to me quite quickly and took me to the hospital. Thankfully I didn’t lose my leg.”
Whishaw plays the part as if his character believes every word of what he says; at no point does he turn to the camera and wink. Earnest, word-gratified, limp-laden, he turns every syllable into a profound piece of poetry, every breath into an ascerbic movement.
And, fitting for a man who once played ´Hamlet´, he receives many of the film´s longest and most memorable lines, particularly his description of a lobster being anassinine animal to change into: “they´ll catch you and put you in a pot of boiling water, until you die”. Even Hamlet wasn´t so wonderfully direct!
2. Paddington (2014, Paul King)
Strange to think how the work of a voice-over could be one´s most celebrated performance, though Whishaw is far from the first. ´Philadelphia´may have bagged Tom Hanks an Oscar, but he´ll always be Woody to a generation of fans. Mark Hamill side stepped from the image of a lightsaber welding Jedi to the vicinity of Batman´s greatest foe via an audio booth. And Whishaw gave one of his more earnest and engaging performances through the mouth of a furry teddy bear.
A rarity for a children´s film, as it appealed to the younger viewers, while leaving a smile on their parents faces. Based on the Michael Bond books, the film seeped itself in nostalgia, a nostalgia Whishaw was only too aware of. “Paddington’s a bit different in the film to the series from the ’70s.” explained Whisaw to TimeOut about the changing times.
“Michael Hordern used to do all the voices, and he had a lovely, rich voice, but Paddington is now a bit younger.” Making Paddington younger only works if the stories feel familiar, yet new. Whishaw´s bubbly expressionism helps to bring this forward, an exasperated “Um, you’re not using those ear brushes to clean your mouth are you, Mr Brown?” gives a modern stint to an old joke.
Ultimately, Paddington is an altruistic bear, both charming and optimistic, effervescent to the last. Whishaw´s jocular vocalisings gives panache to the proceedings, making for one of the more entertaining children´s performances of recent times.
It´s a joyful performance best summed up by Paddington as “I’ll never be like other people, but that’s alright, because I’m a bear. A bear called Paddington”
1. Perfume: The Story Of a Murderer (2006, Tom Tyker)
Forget Leonardo DiCaprio fighting a bear, this has to be the most distinctively visceral performance of the last ten years. Sniffs, smells, breaths, scents, these are hard to articulate- but Whishaw churns the challenge with the ease that butter melts to cream.
Ever the perfectionist, Whishaw turned to the movements of animals ass inspiration for his great turn as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille . “It felt like a useful place to start” he explained to IndieLondon ” because animals, much more than us, are responding to smell in a very primal way. Just to see how that impacts on the way they move, interact with the world and look at it was a helpful way into the character.”
Grenouille, an olfactory savant, does what he can to obtain that most perfect of scents, at all and any cost. Once considered an unfilmable book (writer Patrick Süskind openly declared that he felt only Kubrick and Forman could do it justice), the lead role needed an actor who could work on multiple levels.
Convinced Whishaw was perfect for the part after watching him play ´Hamlet´, director Tom Tyker explained Whishaw´sappeal : “Ben is equally dark and innocent; potentially violent and yet at the same time kind of a boy. He got all that across and still makes audiences root for the guy even though they might be kind of disturbed by that fact.”
In the same interview for IndieLondon, Tyker claimed Whishaw was a man who could portray a character who was so ambiguous and multi-faceted; with his eyes wide, nose gaunted and pensive smile, Whishaw makes Grenouille a compelling character, loathsome, but enthralling. Every little move, from moving perfumes, standing in front of a crowd as an angelic being, is shown primarily from the mind, its shown inside his head, not outside his body.
Comparisons with The Dane are fair and game. What Hamlet was to Whishaw´s theatre resume, Grenouille is to his filmographic collection. A cerebral character, alone only to his audience, moribund darkness shrouding his hair, a European flair of ennui and despair only grasping to come out, constant grapples with insanity, are all there to be shared and admired by audiences alike. And ´Perfume´ could have been about cosmetics in the hands of a lesser actor! One of the century´s greats.
Author Bio: Eoghan Lyng is an Irish man, who studied English and Gaeilge at University College Cork. Currently a TEFL teacher, Lyng spends his spare time thinking and writing about movies when he´s not teaching the Three Conditionals. He can be found on Twitter @eoghanlyng.